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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Like Lichens

By Ranger Steve Mueller

There are small beautiful brown moths with red stripes on their wings that run lengthwise away from the head. People occasionally notice their beauty and ask about them. They are Lichen Moths that likely feed on lichens.

These moths and lichens are creatures few notice. It is incredibly difficult to locate caterpillars on lichens. They are small and blend in well. To study the moth’s nature niche, scientists collect adults and place them in a container with lichens so the moths will oviposit their eggs. Then they can be studied as they grow.

I see a half dozen lichen moths each summer but tens of thousands of lichens grow at the sanctuary. Even if I knew one of the caterpillars was present in lichen, it would be hard to find because they camouflage well.

Lichens can be abundant but their numbers decrease rapidly in response to air pollution. Like all living creatures some are more resistant to pollution than others. They are used to monitor air quality and for fabric dyes. They have antibacterial and anti-germination chemicals studied for medicinal and agricultural uses. Perhaps your antibiotics are lichen based. That alone is reason for us to “like lichens” and protect the habitat. They are good neighbors growing on trees, rock, fences, or almost any place they can gain a foothold.

They use objects as a place to perch much like a bird uses a branch to stand on. They are not parasites penetrating the tissues of organisms for nourishment. Their nature niche method of survive is unique. A lichen is composed of two organisms that live together for survival. One is an alga and the other a fungus.

Visually think of a magnified lichen like a fishnet with tennis balls caught in open webbing spaces. The fishnet represents the fungus that cannot produce food but it holds water like a sponge. The tennis balls represent algae cells that capture sunlight energy to produce food. To survive the fungus grows hyphae that penetrate the algae cells to acquire food to live.

One might think of the fungus as parasite but instead scientists consider the algae and fungus as mutual symbiotic organisms that help each other survive. It is obvious that the fungus benefits by extracting food energy from the algae. The alga benefits because alone it would dry and die. It is like corn and people. We plant corn and it gets to survive abundantly even though we eat it. Without people, corn would be rare on Earth. Without the fungus, the species of alga that depends on the fungus would be extremely rare.

Walk around your neighborhood or visit a county, state, or national park and notice lichens. There are three major kinds or groups of lichens based on growth form. If you have noticed lichens, it is probably the leafy or shrubby growth forms that captured your attentions. Lichens do not have leaves but examine some growing on a tree. They tend to grow from the center outward forming a circular growth like a paper plate. They are thin from top to bottom and spread a few inches wide on the tree trunk. They grow on rocks in the same manner.

They need a substrate to stand on and do not use it for food. Most lichens are only an inch to a few inches across but several might grow together. The leafy ones shaped like a paper plates are called foliose. 

The second group is called fruticose because they grow like miniature shrubs. A striking one is the British Soldier or Red Caps. They have gray/green appearing stem-like branches capped with bright red tops. The red caps are the reproductive structures. These are found in a variety of habitats and frequently colonize bare sand where little else can grow. Keep in mind they are not gathering nutrients from the soil like farm crops. The fungus holds moisture the alga uses for adequate water for photosynthesis and food production to support both.

The third group is crustose and appears like a crust on the surface where it grows. They are often seen on gravestones. The three groups in the Great Lakes region have about 700 species comprising a miniature world. Like lichens, enjoy their beauty, and associated species like lichen moths.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Leg Joints

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Femur, tibia, fibula, metatarsals, and tarsals comprise the bones in our legs and feet. Their arrangement allows movement. Other mammals have bones in different arrangements that serve their mobility for greatest survival. Other groups of organisms like birds and frogs have their own special configurations to meet their needs.

Diagram of a typical insect leg.

Insects do not have bones but have specialized leg joints. Insect exoskeletons are on the outside of the body instead of inside like ours. Leg section names are similar but are structurally different. Between the body and femur is a rounded knob called the coxa followed by another small section called the trochanter. The femur is often the largest leg section much like our femur. Though the name is the same, the insect femur is made of a hard chiton comparable to our fingernails that are on the outside to protect inner tissues and muscles. Consider an insect’s skeleton to be like a knight’s armor that protects from the outside.

To move, it is necessary to have flexible connective tissue between various sections of the leg like is used in a knight’s armor. Progressing from the body to leg tip, the leg sections have adaptations that serve the insects life style for survival in its nature niche. The tibia connects the femur with the tarsi. The tibia is comparable to the tibia and fibula of our lower leg.

A series of small leg sections called tarsi beyond the tibia allow flexibility. Most insects have three, four or five aligned in a row. Go outside to look at a large grasshopper or katydid’s leg joints. Some of the large Carolina Grasshoppers with black wings are still active. The last pair of legs on the grasshopper are large, adapted for jumping and are easiest for viewing leg construction. When you try to capture a grasshopper, it becomes obvious how well suited their legs are for escaping danger.

Crickets and long-horned grasshoppers, like the katydids, have an “eardrum” or tympanum at the basal end of their tibia. We have been enjoying the raucous sound penetrating the blackness of night. It is essential for noise making insects to hear the sexual calls at night for successful breeding. Instead of hearing in their heads like us, they hear in their legs.

There are more specialized leg structures than described here so consider visiting the library, the web, and spend time outdoors exploring. One very important feature not mentioned is tarsal claws. Most insects have small claws that aid gripping surfaces. When an insect stands on your arm, you often feel the claws grip.

The front legs of the praying mantis have a long femur and tibia lined with stiff spines that allow it to grip insect prey firmly. Its coxa that connects the femur to the body is long instead of small and round. It allows greater mobility for capturing prey. Each insect species has unique adaptations that meet its lifestyle. If you have been grabbed by a mantis, its spines might have penetrated your skin and even caused some bleeding.

Inside the exoskeleton leg, is where the muscles are attached. Our leg muscles extend across joints so when contracted they cause the leg to bend. If both ends were attached to the same bone, contraction would not result in movement. Insects are similar in muscle attachment except their muscles are inside the hollow exoskeleton but they stretch across joints. You will not find an insect with bulging muscles because they are hidden inside.

Beetles have interesting legs. They are sometimes quite easy to observe in fall because they frequently stand on flower heads for extended periods. Visit a goldenrod or New England Aster to watch. Notice how the front pair of legs reaches forward and the second and third pair of legs extend backwards. Some insects only use four legs (two pairs) when walking so watch to discover them. Observe leg movement and notice if the front and back legs on one side are used with the middle leg on the opposite side when walking.

Some insects like the blister beetle ooze a substance from their leg joints when disturbed. The fluid can cause skin blisters. There are thousands of insects with interesting leg joints. Take time to observe nature’s wonders.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Protecting Parks

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The results are in for the public comment period required by law regarding how Americans feel about eliminating or greatly reducing the size the of national monuments by Presidential Executive Order. When a president creates a national monument, it protects the area the same as a national park until Congress decides to make it a national park, eliminate or change it in some manner. The Antiquates Act of 1906 allows a President to create a monument to provide protection until Congress acts on the protected area. It takes years or decades to be debated and acted on by Congress.

President Trump instructed the Secretary of Interior to review national monuments created since 1996 because he plans to eliminate or greatly reduce the size of monuments by Executive Order. Park advocate groups like the National Parks Association, Wilderness Society, and many others claim it is beyond the legal ability of a President to alter the monuments created by previous presidents. Such changes are legally restricted to Congress. Before becoming President, Trump campaigned for changing parks from protected areas to being open to mining for natural resource consumption, turned over to private business management or even eliminated. The monument review is a test to see if he can eliminate them and possibly continue with elimination of the national parks by Executive Order.

The National Park Service was created in the Organic Act of 1916. The agency’s mission as managers of national parks and monuments was clearly stated.

“….to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance released the following statement to the media: “Secretary Zinke’s illegal recommendations to the President are the latest salvo in this administration’s attacks on America’s public lands. It’s outrageous that after 99 percent of the more than 2.8 million comments received by the Secretary supported keeping our monuments protected, Secretary Zinke is still recommending the President illegally attack our national treasures. President Trump should throw this report away.”

Other organizations have released similar statements to the media to let American citizens know that national parks are being attacked. An analysis of the public comments shows 0.8 percent of people commenting support the Presidents Executive Order and 99.2 oppose the EO. Those commenting from Michigan were 100 percent opposed to the Executive Order.

The report can be found at PublicSupportForPublicLands_FINAL_20170822.pdf. The following in italics are from the report conclusions. The public overwhelmingly opposes rescinding or reducing the protection afforded 27 national monuments and 5 marine national monuments established since 1996. This opposition cuts across geography, issue areas (environment, Native American rights and culture, recreation, economy, etc.), and it is not specific to any national monument.

Taken together this study shows that the people can and have been heard, and that they have spoken clearly and forcefully for the continued protection of America’s public lands and the natural, scenic, sacred, culturally and historically significant places they contain.

Despite public sentiment of 99.2 percent opposed, the interior secretary has recommended greatly reducing the size the monuments. That will allow mining development in areas that are currently protected for present and future generations. The parks protect nature niches and are our insurance policy that allows us to visit special treasures and preserves them for coming generations. Park protection is an important means for preserving biodiversity.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Native bees

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Various bee species have adaptations that serve them well for gathering pollen and nectar from various plants that serve our needs. Most people know something about the honeybees that are important to our agriculture industry. Native bees are also vitally important to nature niche plant and animal communities. The term native bees is used to specify species native to the Great Lakes region and our continent as opposed to the non-native honey bees that were brought to North America to aid agriculture.

It is not only the honeybee that is facing survival challenges. The economic value of bees is worth billions of dollars. They are insects important to our health, wealth, and survival. Native bees have declined for many reasons. They have fascinating life histories and are beautiful insects. Some are fuzzy with yellow, red, and black “hairs” covering their bodies. Others have a bright green exoskeleton or more obscure black bodies.

Look closely at what is visiting flowers in gardens or wild patches in yards. Don’t miss the pageant of activity right outside your home. Come learn about native bees at a free presentation hosted by the WILD Ones.

The River City WILD Ones is a native plant group that offers field trips and programs encouraging people to landscape yards with native plants that strengthen and maintain the health and wealth of the local landscape around our homes, neighborhoods, and community. To celebrate the organizations tenth year, they are hosting a community event for free on September 18, 2017 at 7 p.m. in the Calvin College Fine Arts Center, 1795 Knollcrest Circle SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546. Park in Lot 9, 10, or 11. Enter off the East Beltline near the pedestrian overpass walkway. The Fine Arts Center is east of the E. Beltline.

WILD Ones write: The keynote speaker is Minnesotan Heather Holm a horticulturist and biologist, as well as a writer, designer, and publisher. In addition to taking part in native bee research projects, she informs and educates audiences nationwide, through her writing and many presentations, about the fascinating world of native bees and the native plants that support them. In her most recent research project, she assisted University of Minnesota Extension faculty in a two-year study to determine the types of native bees present in cultivated blueberry farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The study included developing customized plans to enhance and expand both forage crops and nesting sites for bees within the farms.

Heather has written for Houzz, a social media website, about pollinators, beneficial insects, and native plants. Her first book, Pollinators of Native Plants, published in 2014, established her as a knowledgeable resource on the subject of the interactions between native bees and native plants. Her new book is titled Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide. Both books will available for purchase at the event. 

WILD Ones invites the public to attend and would like people to register at the website: https://rcwo-10th-anniversary.eventbrite.com before attending.

Please beeline to the event. It will be enjoyable meeting and visiting with nature niche readers. To make it easy to find me, I will be wearing my ranger uniform.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Solar Eclipse and Science Credibility

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The enduring credibility of a scientist depends on the ability to remain vigilant in using physical evidence that supports conclusions. People often prefer to accept what they desire to believe rather than what is supported by physical evidence. Science is not about belief but requires physical evidence for determining acceptability.

Scientific conclusions are tested and modified to improve accuracy. Many people are not clear on scientific process. People expect that when a reputable scientist has made a conclusion, the conclusion is unchanging. That is not how science works. Science is self-correcting in the sense that continued research brings new information to light that modifies original conclusions. Faulty aspects are replaced to improve conclusions.

The advent of DNA and mRNA testing added a new dimension to help scientists draw more accurate conclusions. The new species of moth I discovered, Grammia brillians (Brilliant Virgin Tiger Moth), was beyond my resources and knowledge for accurate identification. The specimens collected did not fit any known species. My conclusion to species was tentative and later modified.

Help from scientific specialists was essential. Two of three scientists familiar with the Genus were contacted but were unable to identify it. A third took the specimens for intensive study. His specialty was the Genus Grammia and he did not recognize the specimens provided. He studied details of physical appearance (phenotypic characters). Phenotype helps distinguish species but some have nearly identical appearance.

He conducted genitalia dissection because characteristics have distinctive features often referred to as “lock and key.” The male and female genitalia often develop adaptations that only allow individuals of the same species to mate. Evolution is in progress so closely related species still transforming to new species sometimes mate to produce individuals with poor offspring survival. Behavior is important to prevent developing species from mating but that is a detailed nature niche separation subject of its own.

Lastly, he used the tools for conducting DNA sequencing to compare Grammia species. Based on the three forms of physical evidence, he recognized why I could not identify the individuals to species. They belonged to an unknown species and he named it.

Many people choose to be selective about what supported evidence they will accept based on what they desire to believe. Most people have come to accept that the Earth is not the center of the universe. They understand we can determine when the positions of solar bodies will produce the next solar eclipse. Some are still unwilling to accept physical evidence regarding climate change, for how our existence developed through evolutionary adaptation, or that the Earth has been present for nearly 5 billion years.

Scientists do not have the luxury of choosing to accept only what they desire to believe. Selectively choosing to ignore physical evidence undermines scientific credibility. Most observations Copernicus made in the 1400’s concerned eclipses, alignments, and conjunctions of planets and stars. He refused to recant physical evidence supporting the Earth goes around the sun instead of the sun going around the Earth. That resulted in his being placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life. His vigilance for the integrity of scientific physical evidence allowed us to understand the solar system. It led to accurately predicting the timing of solar eclipses.

Whether it is the position of solar bodies, atmospheric climate change, or evolution of species, scientists are vigilant in using physical evidence for understanding how nature niches develop and function. Scientific evidence is currently being censored by political directives to stop government agencies from sharing physical evidence to prevent agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency from being open with research findings. It is similar to what occurred in the 1400’s. Encourage people to remain vigilant like Copernicus against the claim today that science is “fake news.” Science has a self-correcting process for maintaining credibility.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Knee deep death trap

Rough waves on Lake Michigan. Photo from Wunderground.com by unobtrusive troll10.

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Enjoying the big waves has always been fun but poses life threatening challenges for many species. If you happen to be a duck you are probably safe. Big waves were rolling on shore at Traverse City State Park shortly after mallard ducklings hatched from eggs. The hen led fledglings to water. People concerned for the safety of the little ones approached and caused the mother to move away from young and shore.

She disappeared among the tall waves with most of the ducklings but a couple lost sight of her and became separated. The people that frightened the mother picked up two ducklings and brought them to me at the ranger station. They should have left them to the mother’s care. At the beach, we could not locate the mother or her other young.

One-fourth of a mile away, a stream entered Grant Traverse Bay and provided an inlet where water was calm. We took the two ducklings there and found several adult ducks with young. We released the ducklings with hope the mother was present in the protective cove. If not, the young should be safe and might join another family.

The big waves did not pose a death threat to them but people causing the mother to move away from young did.

When I was a “young duckling” so to speak, I had my own death threat among big waves. Our family was at a beach on a giant wave day. It was exciting and fun in the waves. I waded into the water and stood in knee deep water between waves. When a wave arrived, the water was over my head. I rode up on the wave and came back down when it passed to stand on the bottom again.

All was going well until one time when I rode high on the wave and came back down, the undertow of water returning along the bottom knocked my feet from under me. I thought no big deal and stood up. It happened that I stood up in middle of a tall wave. Almost immediately the undertow knocked my feet from under me again. Quickly I stood and found myself in the middle of another wave. This repeated.

By now I was out of air, frightened, and desperate to inhale.  A breath would flood my lungs with water and begin the drowning process. My folks had no idea I was in danger in knee high water. They hadn’t even noticed I had disappeared. I was only underwater a short time.

It seemed impossible to stand up between waves and I could not get my head into the air. Finally, I managed to get my head out of water but was knocked down by the undertow. A push off the bottom allowed me to ride up and down on a big wave. I discovered the danger of knee deep water between large waves and survived. Many people do not and several times each year, families lose a member to the power of water.

It is not just people whose lives get threatened by water. Fall bird migration season has arrived. Massive avian numbers from songbirds to hawks encounter the Great Lakes migration water barrier. They pile up on the north end of the lakes on their southbound journey and move along the shoreline searching for safe crossing sites. I’ve watched hundreds of Broad-winged Hawks move west along northern Lake Michigan to go around the lake. Others moved east towards Mackinaw Bridge where crossing the straits is shorter. Once there, they wait for proper weather and wind conditions to venture safely over water.

Migration over water is one of many life-threatening challenges for species in nature niches. Not all survive. I have found small birds washed dead to shore after being knocked into the water by storms or winds. People and wildlife lives depend on respect for the power of water. Have fun in turbulent water but remain safety conscious.

Consider a trip to Whitefish Point Bird Observatory north of Paradise on Lake Superior to witness bird migration from Canada to the US this fall. Michigan Audubon staff can assist with species identification.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Biting flies

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

At our annual Lehr family reunion in the 1950’s, we gathered at a city park. It was an event for my dad’s mother’s side of the family. I always looked forward to it. One year, I ventured away from family to the large swing sets. The swings sets were tall and we could swing higher than possible on neighborhood swings.

While swinging with pleasure, I suddenly started screaming bloody murder. I was too far from family for anyone to notice. Nearby mothers with their children took notice and came to my rescue but had no idea why I was screaming and in tears. They helped me stop the swing. I was slapping at my leg.

Under the right leg of my trousers was something horrible. A woman pulled up my pant leg to discover a horse fly biting me. It was worse than a bee sting but it did not inject venom. Not all experiences in the outdoors are pleasant and some people avoid outings because they fear the unpleasant. Positive events out number negative ones and hopefully bad events do not prevent time among nature niches.

Deer flies are more common than horse flies. They can drive us inside at certain times of the day and during some weeks of the year. Karen and I hiked in a western cattle grazing area on public land. At Deer Creek in Utah, we found it necessary to leave. The cattle could not. Deer could not. Other mammals could not.

They had to endure the onslaught of biting Tabinid flies. Fortunately, cows have long tails with a hair tuff fly swatter. Deer have shorter tails but one can watch them constantly twitching it back and forth.

Selected behavior helps deer and other mammals avoid painful “bites”. The flies do not actually bite. Their mouth parts are saw-like. They saw into the skin and lap oozing blood to nourish eggs in their abdomen. It is the female that seeks blood much like it is female mosquitoes that poke holes in our skin. Males feed on nectar and pollen at flowers.

Horse flies are much larger than deer flies and cause considerably more pain. Both lay eggs near water on vegetation where hatching young drop into a stream or other water body. The maggots go to the bottom where they feed on other insects and invertebrates. They grow and shed their “outer skin” known as an exoskeleton to reach a size for transforming from maggot to flying adult that leaves the water to mate and produce more flies.

Most of the biting flies do not survive to leave the water. They are eaten by other aquatic organisms from fish to insects. As adult flies, they are eaten by dragonflies and even frogs. Despite us not wanting to share the world with them, they are important for maintaining organisms we want to share time and space with like fish, frogs, and dragonflies. Birds pluck them out of the air for nourishment.

There are tricks that help us enjoy the outdoors despite the presence of biting flies. We can use chemical insect repellents and at times they seem almost essential. Effective repellents are often dangerous if applied to our skin. Most should be applied to clothing instead. I rarely use repellent insect creams or sprays.

Appropriate dress is quite effective. Wear light colored long-sleeved shirts and long pants to keep skin covered. Dark clothes attract flies. The deer flies like to circle around our heads and become a major nuisance. My friend Mary Miller taught me to pick a bracken fern and put the stem in a headband or hat so the leafy frond stands above my head. The flies circle the frond instead of my head.

Choosing where and when to spend time outdoors at certain times of the year helps. During fly season, it is better to hike at a distance from streams. There are many trails in the area, so select one away from deer flies. As August progresses, deer flies become less frequent and areas near water become suitable again. Hiking on breezy days sweeps flies away. Wildlife spend time away from water and in open breezy areas. Learn by watching and enjoying wildlife. Discover ways to keep spending time among nature’s outdoor wonders.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Symphony of Sight and Sound

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The Cardinal flower. Photo by Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, Fish and Wildlife Service.

Symphony players have honed their music through eons of natural selection. Refinement continues with each generation of plants and animals. Individuals have physical advantages for species survival or have adaptations that are eliminated by predators, parasites, or failure to meet environmental conditions.

Enjoy the sight and sound of the life’s orchestra performing its changing symphony. You can walk among players or sit on a lounge chair with a cool beverage to experience more players than are imaginable.

The regional stage is set with an assemblage of plants on wet to dry soils where nutrients and water meet their needs along with varying amounts of light. The Cardinal Flower is one of the most beautiful flowers for my eye and has recently begun blooming. Each animal has favorites. The swamp milkweed is gorgeous and is more beautiful to many insects. It brings insects to the wetland stage better than cardinal flowers. Hummingbirds prefer the cardinal flower where we can enjoy their sound portion of the symphony.

Hummingbirds hover at the flowers with wings moving in a figure eight that allows them to hang stationary like a helicopter. Bees and Hummingbird Sphinx moths hover at milkweed flowers with their own unique buzz. Bees land and probe the unique flower structure with mouthparts that sometimes get trapped and held. One can find dead butterflies or other insects that were unable to break free.

Death is common for symphony players. Bird love songs often come from hidden locations that do not betray their presence and would expose them to predators. Their song announces breeding territory limits to prospective females that inspect male’s habitat suitability for rearing young. The singing male moves around the territory perimeter in earlier morning announcing to other males they are not welcome.

Each bird produces music in varying sized territory space that is adjusted to resource requirements. In the big woods at Ody Brook, Ovenbirds (a warbler) sing from low branches in the mature forest and build a Dutch oven shaped nest on the ground. Once in my lifetime, I found a well-hidden nest with the help of another naturalist.

Ovenbirds are abundant and heard throughout Michigan. Their music keeps rhythm with its repeated “teacher, teacher, teacher” song like our symphony’s drums. High above in tree tops, the Red-eyed Vireo sings its melody, “Here I am, where are you?” Like all orchestras players, species begin and end at specific times during the performance. Most birds make music during peak breeding season of May and June.

Sight, sound, and players change as one moves from forest to drier field and shrubland. Field Sparrows cannot be found in the mature forest but are loud musicians in open shrub habitat. They make introductory music notes followed by a trill that resembles a ping-pong ball bouncing on a table with accelerating speed as the ball loses energy with each bounce of less height. The Chipping Sparrow has a more evenly spaced trill without introductory notes. Close your eyes and recognize wild orchestra instruments in nature niches. You might not see the players but you can enjoy and recognize different sounds.

As summer progresses in forest, field, and wetlands, bird sounds become less frequent. Insect orchestra members increase the sight and sound beauty. Crickets of various species pick up the tempo. The Snowy Tree Crickets play a uniquely beautiful instrument. Cicadas have a tympanum at the base of their abdomen that resonates deafening volume. Katydid grasshoppers repeat their name during dark hours to attract mates.

Flowers and leaves feed insects, attract birds, predatory insects, and spiders that eat insects. The arrangement of color and species distribute players in nature like the stage for human orchestras. The multitude of players is greater than can be learned in a lifetime and they are dressed in interesting attire. Discover the magnificent sight and sound orchestra. To enjoy it, wild habitat is necessary. Less grass will allow more “nature,” save gas, and extend mower life. Spend more time hearing nature’s orchestra instead of a mower engine’s roar.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Shifting Sands

A sand dune at Silver Lake swallowed up a house in April. Photo from woodtv.com.

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Reading the landscape is a development skill taught in middle school Earth science. It is taught to preschoolers by parents. Young minds are open to learning.

The local news reported advancing sand dunes are burying homes. An Earth science lessen is easily forgotten without experiential learning. The dangers of building or buying a home too close to the big lake can be seen during family or school outings. It is a gamble to determine exactly which homes will get buried.

A trip to Lake Michigan’s shoreline dune complex for a swim will be a fun outing where one can see trees buried by moving sand at Hoffmaster State Park or in other parks. Some of the trees have adaptations allowing them to produce adventitious roots from tree trunks as their original roots get buried too deep to survive. The new roots give the tree continued life under tough circumstances.

At some future date, the sand dunes will shift and uncover tree trunks, exposing the roots developed from the growing trunk that was previously high in the air before being buried. If fortunate, the tree will have lived and died before sand is blown away to expose its skeleton.

One might refer to sand dunes as a living, moving, entity, but by reading the landscape, we discover they are not. Moving dunes bring life or death to species by the lake and will crush buildings. Contractors build and sell homes close to the shoreline. They arrive, construct and leave with a profit. The buyer that did not learn to read the landscape might lose their home to the crushing weight of sand depending on where the home was built.

The news showed a cottage that collapsed under the weight of moving sand. People were interviewed about nature’s destroying power. Owners are hiring bulldozer operators to move sand to save homes and resorts. The reporters hoped the home owners would win the fight against nature’s forces.

A fight is not necessary. If the people refused to buy homes close to shore or on shifting dunes, their homes would not be endangered. Many want the shoreline view and are willing to gamble their home’s future. The result is their home might be buried or washed into the lake. A Go-fund-me account has been established to help save homes because people cannot afford to hire contactors to keep moving sand.

Learning the school lessen might have resulted in choosing to live in a safer location. In the 1980’s I observed homes falling into Lake Michigan when high lake levels undercut foundations. I witnessed multi-million dollar homes fall into the Pacific Ocean as erosion undercut cliffs. The homes were too large to move and should not have been built close to the ocean.

Homes are built on barrier Islands along the Atlantic Ocean even though barrier islands are known to move and wash away. Classroom education is valuable but field trip experience is essential for learning to read the landscape. Book learning requires supplemental practical experiences to learn to read the landscape. That is the purpose of places like the Howard Christensen Nature Center and for parents to take families to natural areas.

I began as director at HCNC in 1986 when an Environmental Education Advocacy Council and School administrator agreement required some Kent ISD teachers to bring students to HCNC. I was told HCNC was securely funded by property taxes. As time passed, and shifting sands of education politics changed. I was told environmental education was no longer a priority in America after the early 2000’s presidential election. The Kent ISD stopped funding HCNC. An impact of that decision might result in students losing their homes to nature’s forces when they are grown. We are in a phase of political temperament again when many want to focus only on the present without considering the triple bottom line of economic, social, and environmental impacts for the future. Economic health cannot be sustained without social and environmental sustainability. Security in our personal nature niche depends on the shifting sands of politics and how well people learn to read the landscape to protect their wellbeing and investments.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Rogue River butterfly count 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The weather was great with sunny skies and little wind. Eight participants enjoyed butterflies, learned identification and associations with nature niche habitats. Thirty species sighted on count day are listed in Table 1 with the number of individuals and participants. We began at the Howard Christensen Nature Center for our 30th count year at 9 a.m. Counting began at HCNC’s Welcome Center. The group car-pooled to various Rogue River State Game Area locations within the count circle.

We visited the highest elevation in Kent County at Fisk Knob where we anticipated “hill topping” Black Swallowtails but none were present. We know what species to expect based on normal flight dates but some species are not present because we either missed them or their flight schedule is different from our count date in a given year.

During the day, butterfly behavior is observed and described to help make the count a wonderful experience. Larval host plants are inspected for caterpillars or eggs. One Viceroy larva was found on aspen this year. The eight participants spent most time looking for adults and counting individuals.

The total number of species observed has varied over the 30 years from 18 to 43. Weather effects butterfly activity. Sunny days with little or no wind in the 70’s and 80’s is ideal. Adults often emerge from pupae following a soaking rain. I was surprised that a few species we normally find were not present. The flowering plants and apparently some butterflies seem to have delayed emergence this year. We had a cool spring but I expected the warm days in June would allow species to get back on schedule. Activity is closely linked with blooming of nectar sources.

Consider joining the 2018 counts next July. Watch the Nature Niche column for next year’s dates for the Allegan, Muskegon, and Rogue River State Game Area Counts as well as the Newaygo Count in the Manistee National Forest. Books and Internet web sites help learning but it is best experienced by exploring the real world. Time outdoors is enjoyable, healthy, and provides family time that creates wonderful memories. People can join for part of the day.

Other count results will be posted on the West Michigan Butterfly Association (WMBA) Web Site by August. Consider becoming a member of WMBA for $5/yr. A check can be sent to our treasurer Dennis Dunlap, 2599 W. Chester Dr., Zeeland, MI 49464 and his address is also posted on the web site (http://www.graud.org/wmba.html). The date for the Muskegon count is 22 July 2017 so there is still opportunity to participate. Visit the WMBA web site for location directions.

Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary is the last place we visit after diligently searching all day. I am always hopeful we will be able to find at least one species we have not discovered elsewhere during the day. This year we added the Appalachian Brown. During count week, which is the three days before and after count day, we saw two Harvesters, 1 Mourning Cloak, and 1 Hobomok Skipper at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary. Those species and numbers of individuals are not included in the count day list. They are listed as an addendum to the report and turned in to the North American Butterfly Association.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

 

click link to download results: 2017 Rogue River Butterfly Ct.pdf

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